Thursday, April 3, 2014

Record review: Ego - 'DON'T'

By Gene Wagendorf III 

Multi-instrumentalists Dan Rico, Fumo Stromboli and Majik Aeon have been making music together in various groups for what feels like forever. The trio made up the core of the spastic punk band Snacks, while Rico and Aeon also did time as two thirds of excellent pop rock outfit Close Hits. Musical ideas born of those projects continued to develop in the boy's most recent incarnation, as psych/punk group Ego. A pair of excellent cassette releases on Maximum Pelt have paved the way for the band's debut full-length, DON'T.

The album starts in grand fashion with the gargantuan, psychedelic jam that is "Another Friday Night." A whirlpool of percussion and feedback slowly builds momentum, stomping behind Aeon's twisting vocals until the whole thing explodes into a fierce rocker that sets the tone for the rest of the record. Following that are a pair of hypnotically energetic punk tunes, "And Now I'm Feeling Low" and "Slit." The former, sung by Aeon, sounds a little bit like the Buzzcocks got piss drunk and played a show in your basement, while the latter is a rolling pop punk romp that features Rico on vocals.

Majik Aeon takes the reigns again on "Heavy Heavy," a chugging acoustic number that unravels into a beautiful lysergic fit. Aeon's warm drawl sounds full against the taut guitar, and the song rolls on a while before tangling itself up. The string arrangements and sparse melody give the breakdown a bit of a Velvet Underground feel at first, but then a second level of giddiness explodes into a Beatles White Album playfulness. That isn't to compare Ego to either of those legends just yet. It's just a testament to the fact that this trio has done their homework.

A couple more rowdy rock songs lead up to the summery joyride that is "Now I Don't Wanna Know." Aeon lobs his lyrics across what may be the record's most solid hook (no small feat), setting the stage for a series of magnetic guitar solos that range from molten to dreamy. The tempo stumbles smartly near the end, as if the song had exhausted itself partying and crumpled to a satisfying slumber.  That cool peace is intruded on by "Cynical," a snaking, Animal Collective-esque acoustic tune. The choppy strings and vocals are damn near jarring, and a stark contrast to the glammmy sweetness of "Weird Chick at the Dustbowl."

DON'T ends on a high note with "Reprise" and "Automaton." The two tracks next to each other are an interesting couplet, showcasing just how dynamic a band Massive Ego is. That Stromboli, Aeon and Rico are all more than capable on multiple instruments makes it fun to imagine who played what on the instrumental "Reprise." Another lesson learned from their '60s rock predecessors, the song is a lush little ditty that calls back to Aeon's vocal melody on the album's opening track. It's the comedown from the trip that started when the needle dropped, and it's a glorious one. The song seamlessly segues into "Automaton," whose soft drift is like a tropical lullaby. The percussion here is some of the best on the record, at different times booming, subdued, splashy and deadly precise. It makes an ideal playground for some sizzling and wandering guitar work and a nimble little bass line. It's all three Egoists firing on all cylinders; a song that changes pace, style and genre effortlessly, a song that starts by coaxing you to daydream and ends in a beachfront dance party.

'DON'T' is out now on Maximum Pelt Records and available for purchase on vinyl, cassette and digital download here. You can see Ego celebrate the release of 'DON'T' tonight, Thursday, April 3 at The Owl (10pm, FREE, 21+) with label-mates House Sounds. Check out "Now I Don't Wanna Know" below.

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